Visit time : 1 day.
Words are difficult to find when seeing this medieval city unfold before your eyes. Few places in the world have so much to tell. Carcassonne possesses an exceptional legacy of a fortified city from the Middle Ages. Immerse yourself in an ancient world and soak up the atmosphere, in this city that transports visitors of all ages into a medieval dream.
The fortifications of Carcassonne, as well as the castle and cathedral, are impressive monuments that reflect the vivid image of this historic fortified city. A flawed image, in fact, since it is generally assumed that Viollet-le-Duc was responsible for imprecise reconstructions during its restoration. However, most of the ramparts and towers (at least 85% of the total) are authentic and still feature important architectural elements of the Lower Roman Empire walls in its lower parts.
The cathedral, especially its interior, is an authentic and integral part of the feudal, and then royal, design of this great medieval fortress.
The work of architect Viollet-le-Duc demands respect. This project is also notable for its consistency compared to his subsequent projects. The renovation and reconstruction work initiated by Viollet-le-Duc, conducted by Boeswillwald, was one of the most important of its kind in the 19th century. For several decades it remained the standard in renovation projects in most of Europe, and beyond. And as a result, the fundamental historic character of Carcassonne is evident, and enhanced.
Criteria for Selection
The Committee decided to include this site in 1997, on the basis of criteria ii and iv.
Criterion (ii) : The historic town of Carcassonne is an excellent example of a medieval fortified town whose massive defenses were constructed on ramparts dating from Late Antiquity.
Criterion (iv) : It is of exceptional importance by virtue of the restoration work carried out in the second half of the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc, who had a profound influence on subsequent developments in the principles and practice of historic conservation.
Source : UNESCO / ICOMOS
From birth to prestige
The oldest human traces date back to the Iron Age (6th century BC) and are located on the hill where the medieval city stands today. This headland provided security and facilitated surveillance of the surrounding area, including the verification of Greek, Etruscan and Carthaginian traders who traveled to Toulouse.
Around 300 BC, the oppidum was already an important commercial center. The Volces-Tectosages people from Central Europe defeated the occupying Iberians of Languedoc and settled there. We only know a little about these people, but fearing their gods, the Tectosages accumulated gold and silver to worship them. Despite this, they led a simple life growing grain and raising goats, sheep and pigs.
In the 2nd century BC, the Romans took possession of Languedoc. It was under Roman influence that the city transformed. They fortified the oppidum with ramparts that are still visible in some parts of the enclosure, serving as foundations for the current walls. Having become a prosperous Gallo-Roman city, it took the name Carcaso until the 5th century. Its houses benefitted from an increased comfort, and its streets increased pavement.
At the end of the Roman Empire, it was the Visigoths of Spain that occupied Languedoc. The city remained in their hands between 460 and 725. The Visigoths were not builders, and they are wrongly credited with building towers that in fact date back to the Gallo-Roman era. They did, however, maintain the city and therefore also participated in renovations, but did not end up giving it a distinctive architectural style.
In 725, after the conquest of the Visigoth Kingdom of Spain, the Saracens seized and defended the city for over thirty years before Pepin the Short, King of the Franks (father of Charlemagne), drove them out. This is the episode that inspired the legend of Dame Carcass (see below). The first millennium (AD) was a very agitated time for the city. Few architectural remains survived this period. It was during the Trencavel dynasty, from 1082 to 1209, that the city experienced an economic, strategic and military boom, and gave future generations this gem of a city.
The Legend of Dame Carcas
The Legend of Dame Carcas explains the supposed origin of the city’s name.
The story says that Charlemagne's army was besieging the city, which was in the hands of the Saracens at the time. The Princess Carcas was at the head of the city after the death of her husband. After five years of enduring the siege, famine raged among the last defenders. All that was left in the city was a little pig, and small amount of wheat. The Princess had an idea: stuff the pig with the rest of the wheat and launch it over the wall. Upon seeing this, Charlemagne and his men halted the siege and retreated, believing that the city overflowed with food to the point of wasting a wheat-fed pig. Before the great army had dispersed, Dame Carcass rang all the bells in the city to announce the good news. One of Charlemagne’s men wrote : "Carcas sonne" (Carcas is ringing), thus creating the name of the city.
It was actually Pepin the Short, Charlemagne’s father, who had organized the siege at the time of the Saracens’ occupation.
The Feudal Era
In 1082, the Trencavel clan took possession of the city, rich from their land, their manorial rights and the salt trade. Bernard Aton Trencavels IV, Viscount of Albi, Nîmes and Béziers, initiated the construction of many buildings, such as the Château Comtal and the repairs of the ramparts in 1130. He also equipped the city with its first complete fortification.
At this time Carcassonne was a prosperous city, its merchant taxes high and its population between 3,000 and 4,000. It was also during this period that a new religion from the Balkan regions, Catharism, was implanted and rapidly grew in Languedoc. Raimond Roger Trencavel, Viscount of Carcassonne (1194-1209) tolerated and protected this “heresy” on his land. In 1208, Pope Innocent III, faced with the rise of Catharism, called the northern barons to embark on a crusade against the heretics: the Albigensian Crusade. The Count of Toulouse, Raymond V, accused of heresy, and his nephew the Viscount of Trencavel, were the targets of the attack.
On August 1, 1209, the city was besieged by Crusaders, and resisted at first. But after a few days, sanitary conditions had worsened and food and water had become scarce. Raimond Roger Trencavel met with the Crusaders on August 15 and was able to save the population. The land was attributed to Simon de Montfort, leader of the Crusader army, who then became the new Viscount of Carcassonne. In 1224, the land was sold to the King of France.
The Royal Era
Thereafter, the medieval city served as headquarters for the troops of the Crusade. With new fortifications, it became one of the strongholds of royal power on the border between France and Aragon (Spain). The city of Carcassonne was now part of the domain of the King of France. Louis IX fortified Carcassonne by building a second wall about a kilometer in length, with fourteen towers. Walls and towers surrounded the Château Comtal, though it was located within the city. Afterward, during the reigns of Philip the Bold and Philip the Fair, the city took on its present appearance.
The king expelled almost all of the inhabitants who had supported the Trencavels from the fortified city, allowing them to settle on the opposite bank of the Aude River. A new town was founded in 1262 on the left bank: the Bastide Saint-Louis with its characteristic grid pattern.
While this new city overflowed with life and activity, the fortified city continued to assert its role as a royal fortress, and was considered impenetrable. In fact, it was never attacked again. Even Edward the Black Prince, the great conqueror, was only able to take over the lower part of the city. As such, the number of troops stationed there was gradually reduced. At the end of the 14th century, the fortified city was not adapted to withstand new weapons (gunpowder). Nevertheless, its location on the border remained a strategic asset and a garrison was maintained.
The end of the fortress and the abandon of the city
The use of new warfare techniques (gunpowder, cannons), and especially the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, which connected Roussillon to France and determined the border between France and Spain (at its current location), played a role in the loss of the fortified city’s strategic importance. This peace treaty gradually led to its abandonment.
Religion: The bishopric was transferred from the Saint-Nazaire Cathedral to the Saint-Michel Church in the lower city in 1745.
Military: The city was reduced to the role of arsenal and weapons and food warehouse, then removed from the list of fortresses, and eventually abandoned. The Château Comtal was transformed into a prison. Gradually the ramparts were sold, and frequently served as open quarries for local “entrepreneurs”.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the fortified city was no more than a dilapidated area, far from the main city. The medieval city was gradually abandoned by its wealthier inhabitants, and the beautiful houses were abandoned in favor of building in the lower city, preferred for its town square decorated with a monumental fountain, and its mansions.
Affected by the Carcassonne textile crisis, the ever-shrinking population of the medieval city became even poorer. Those who remained were mostly home weavers. The workers' houses, modest and often neglected, occupied the side streets and the bailey (the yard between the two outer walls). Basements and attics were installed in the towers. The medieval city was rapidly deteriorating. This old fortified city, secluded in its useless citadel, was in stark contrast with the Bastide Saint Louis, a forward-looking city enriched by the wine trade and the manufacture of linen. Indeed, Carcassonne would take advantage of the construction of the Canal du Midi to support its wine production. A large center of textile production as well, Carcassonne produced thick fabrics exported mainly to the East.
Restoration in the 19th century
The towers eventually decayed, and most were converted into garages, sheds and other storage buildings. The baileys were gradually invaded by buildings (112 houses). The destruction of the medieval city was planned.
But thanks to the combined action of Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille, a scholar from Carcassonne, Prosper Mérimée and the architect Viollet-le-Duc, the medieval city of Carcassonne came under the authority of the Administration of Fine Arts. Their intervention saved the city from the destruction initially planned by the decree of 1850. Prosper Mérimée, inspector of historic monuments, protected the monuments of the city. The Saint-Nazaire and Saint-Celse Cathedral was the first to receive protection under the Historic Monuments title in 1840. In 1852 the state began the gradual removal of the houses in the baileys, even using expropriation when necessary.
The architectural analysis
Viollet-le-Duc completed a comprehensive study of the fortifications from 1846 to 1852. He initiated a new approach, in which the restoration of the fortress was accompanied by an intimate understanding of its initial assembly. Viollet-le-Duc’s finished work was, and is, an outstanding accomplishment. He established principles for the renovation of the fortress, choosing to reference the original appearance imagined by Royal Engineers of the 13th century. This was one of the most ambitious restoration programs of the 19th century.
Life on the building site
The work was entrusted to local businesses, as well as skilled craftsmen: sculptors, stonemasons, blacksmiths, glass makers. Sandstone blocks for the restoration of the ramparts and towers were extracted from local quarries, and slate from the nearby Montagne Noire (Black Mountain) was used to complete the roofs.
After the death of Viollet le Duc : Paul Boeswillwald
From 1880 onward, Paul Boeswillwald, former pupil of Viollet-le-Duc, extended and completed the restoration of the ancient fortress, carefully following the plans of the architect. The medieval city had experienced a radical change in the course of 60 years : now, the baileys were clear of the houses that hid the walls, the enclosure was adored with new niches, the towers were covered with slate, all culminating to restore the appearance of the medieval fortress of Carcassonne.
In 1902, this large-scale project was completed and the area around the city was developed and cleared. In 1911, the last houses present in the baileys were destroyed, and restoration was considered complete in 1913. A full 30% of the medieval city had been restored. During the 20th century, the last historic monuments were inducted and protected one by one.
28 rue de Verdun, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 04 68 10 24 30.
April, May, June, September and October, Monday to Saturday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (closed on Sundays during October)
July and August, daily: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
November through March, Monday to Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m./ 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Accommodation available for visitors with disabilities
Tourist Office, Medieval City Branch
Rue Cros Mayrevieille, la Cité, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 04 68 10 24 36.
July and August : 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
April, May, June and September: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
October: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
November to March: 9:30 to 1 p.m./ 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Guided Tours offered by the Tourist Office:
Guided tour of the medieval city only (in French, English or Spanish). Full price/ reduced price: €6/ €5.
Guided tour of the Château Comtal and the ramparts. Price: €9. Free for EU citizens under 26 years old (under 18 years old for non-EU citizens).
Visit the medieval city with carriage (May to October). Duration: 20 min.
Visit the medieval city by train (from May to September, audioguide in 7 languages). Duration: 25 min.
Tips for visitors: Carcassonne City Pass
Full price/ reduced price: €8 / €6. The Pass includes a guided tour of the Medieval City, and many discounts (visits, eating, activities...).
The museums of the medieval city are suitable for young audiences, visitors should not hesitate to bring their children. The museums are open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. during summer.
Musée de l’Inquisition
7 rue Saint Jean, Cité Médiévale , 11000 Carcassonne
Tel : 06 03 84 13 86. Prices for Adult / Student / Child: €9.50 / €8.50 / €6.50.
Musée de l’Ecole (for children)
3 rue du Plô, Cité Médiévale, 11000 Carcassonne
Tel : 04 68 25 95 14.
Adult price: €3.50. Free for children under 12 years old.
Reconstruction of a 19th-century classroom (era of Jules Ferry)
9 Place du Grand Puits, Cité Médiévale, 11000 Carcassonne
Tel : 06 03 84 13 86
General admission: €7.
Mansion nestled in the heart of the medieval city. An entertaining group visit of about 20 minutes, sure to send shivers up the spine.
Maison de la Chevalerie (House of Chivalry, With the whole family)
12 Rue Saint Louis, Cité Médiévale, 11000 Carcassonne
Tel: 06 89 20 28 96
Discover the chivalrous world, its codes, its weapons as well as many objects of everyday life in the Middle Ages.
Carcassonne Festival (July)
Website - tel : 04 68 11 59 15.
120 shows (Opera, Dance, Theatre and Circus Acts; Classical, French, international and contemporary music)
Medieval entertainment (July and August)
Tel : 04 68 77 74 67.
Jousting tournaments, and sound and light shows.
Lighting of the Medieval City - Day of the National Holiday: July 14th at 10:30 p.m.
A popular event, with a festive and friendly atmosphere. A great show!
Wine Festival (October)
Around thirty stands are waiting for you at Place Carnot from 6 p.m. to midnight, for a moment of sharing and celebration. Animated every evening by DJs and local bands.
The magic of Christmas (December)
Illumination of the city. Animations, concerts, rink, Christmas market ... and many shows.
Outdoor market at Place Carnot, lively and central square of the Bastide Saint Louis : fresh produce, fruits and vegetables. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings.
Covered market (17th to 19th century), in the center of the Bastide Saint Louis : fresh regional products. Open daily from Tuesday to Saturday.
Getting to Carcassonne
Highway A61 or RN 113 from Beziers or from Toulouse.
Nearby classified sites
Canal du Midi: 0 km (crosses the city)
Causses and Cévennes (La Couvertoirade) 172 km (107 mi), time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Albi : 166 km (103 mi), time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
1 Avenue du Maréchal Joffre, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - Tel : 36 35.
Route de Montréal, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 04 68 71 96 46.
Many international connections via Ryanair. Shuttle to the city center (€5). Price includes 1 hour of public transport access
Boulevard de Varsovie ((opposite the SNCF train station), 11000 Carcassonne
Tel : 08 99 96 91 92.
Many parking lots have been opened toward the entrance of the medieval city, near the Porte Narbonnaise (main entrance).
Parking Tips: arrive early in the morning and park around the Rue Trivalle and the Rue de la Barbacane, between the Aude River and the medieval city. Parking is available to the right of the entrance of the medieval city, down toward the city center. Parking here is free.
A free shuttle runs daily in July and August (9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. / 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.) between the Délestage parking lot and the entrance of the medieval city (every 10 minutes).
Porte narbonnaise , la Cité, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 04 68 71 54 57
Price: €8 / children under 12 years old: €5
From April through October. Commentary during the carriage ride.
Porte narbonnaise , la Cité , 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 06 08 43 88 06.
Price: adult €7.50 / 12 to 25 years old: €6 / 3 to 11 years old: €4. Free for children under 3 years old.
From May through September. Guided tour in 8 languages of the outer towers and ramparts of the medieval city.
Evasion 2 roues
85 Allée d'Iéna, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 04 68 11 90 40.
Website - tel : 06 09 59 30 85 or 07 82 32 67 11.
Opposite the train station, at the Port du Canal du Midi. Open from April to October.
Sleeping / Eating
The selection of accommodation proposed below consists of establishments that offer quality services at competitive rates, they are considered as references in their respective categories. These addresses are inside the classified area. The prices shown are for the off season, on the basis of 2 people.
Inside the Medieval City
B&B Le Grand Puits
8 Place du Grand Puits, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 04 68 25 16 67 or mobile: 06 28 25 16 67.
Price from double €75/ triple €85/ family €95.
Simple and spacious rooms with fully equipped kitchenette. In the heart of the medieval city.
Hôtel Le Donjon - Best Western ****
2 Rue du Comte Roger, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 04 68 11 23 00.
Price from €120.
The selection of restaurants proposed below consists of restaurants that offer a good price/quality value. These addresses are inside or nearby the classified area. “Formule” corresponds to a lunch special with a starter and a main course, or a main course and a dessert. The “menus” usually consist of a starter, a main course and a dessert, for lunch or dinner.
In the Lower Town
Le bloc G - fresh products from the market
112 Rue Barbacane, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - Tel : 04 68 47 58 20.
Lunch formule €16.
Restaurant Robert Rodriguez - fine seasonal cuisine
39 Rue Coste Reboulh, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - Tel : 04 68 47 37 80.
Main course from €20.
Le Parc Franck Putelat - gourmet cuisine
80 Chemin des Anglais, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 04 68 71 80 80.
"Lunch menu" €40. "Dinner menu" from €80.
Inside the Medieval City
Le Saint Jean - traditional cuisine
Place Saint Jean, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 09 70 35 92 70.
"Menu" from €16.
Au Jardin de la Tour - local cuisine
11 Rue de la Porte d'Aude, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - Tel : 04 68 25 71 24.
"Menu" from €16. Only open for dinner.
La Table d'Alaïs - traditional cuisine
32 Rue du Plo, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - Tel : 04 68 71 60 63.
"Menu" from €19.90.
Comte Roger - traditional cuisine
14 Rue Saint Louis , 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 04 68 11 93 40.
"Lunch formule" €24. "Dinner menu" €42.
L’Auberge des Lices - local cuisine
3 Rue Raymond Roger Trencavel, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - tel : 04 68 72 34 07.
"Menu" from €19.90.
La Barbacane - gourmet cuisine
Place Auguste Pierre Pont, 11000 Carcassonne
Website - Tel : 04 68 71 98 71.
Lunch "Menu" €39. Dinner "Menu" from €85.
In the surrounding area
Château de Cavanac ***
Website - Tel : 04 68 79 61 04.